My first technical job

May 10, 2022

Technically my first job was in newspaper delivery, but Ken Fisher (@sqlstudent144)’s challenge is to write about my first technical job, which came much later. And no, I’m not planning to give out any information which could be used for guessing passwords and the like. I don’t think any of my passwords are guessable and none of yours should be either.

So my first technical job was a long way away from databases. If you’ve come here to find out how to get into databases, then that’s a different story. That particular story probably involves the fact that I did a half-major at university in pure mathematics, with subjects like Number Theory, Set Theory, and Logic, so that once I got a job that did involve databases, a lot of things felt very familiar.

But my first technical job was while I was at university still. I was juggling my studies with work that I had in the Japanese Department (formatting textbooks using Microsoft Word with software called Twinbridge), and the head of the Computer Science faculty John Crossley offered me work as a programmer, writing software that would hopefully prove one of his theories. He was a professor in both pure mathematics and computer science, and he figured I might be a good fit, as I was one of a very small group of students who was taking subjects in both those areas.

The idea was that if you could come up with a mathematical proof that for any value ‘x’ there must exist a ‘y’ with a particular set of values, then that proof should be able to be converted into a computer program. As mathematical proofs needed to use very very basic concepts to be accepted by the academic community, it should’ve be possible to represent that proof using markup, and then create a compiler to turn the proof into a program to find a value which satisfies said proof.

I don’t think it ever got anywhere near completion. I worked on it for several months (although not full time), and I think most of the time was in breaking down proofs into the simple components that we knew worked. There was a bunch of time writing code in Caml (this was before Ocaml was a thing), but probably more time deciphering scientific whitepapers about mathematical theory and trying to figure out what John wanted me to focus on.

I think about this way more than I should, probably because it didn’t really get anywhere. It seemed like an interesting concept, but it was purely academic and I eventually left that work to sit under a different professor who specialised in artificial intelligence.

Prior to this time working within the university I’d had jobs in supermarkets and video stores, plus the newspaper delivery stuff that I mentioned at the start. While the supermarkets and video stores gave me some interaction with customers, the work at the university was more similar to the consulting I moved into after finishing my degrees, as I became practised at discovering what my clients needed and breaking the work into manageable chunks. And being able to juggle hours around classes without commute time was amazing.

These days I always encourage students to get to know their lecturers, to find out what they are interested in, and to see if there’s the chance to get involved. It might not lead to much, but it’s good practice for the real world, and the convenience of working on campus is huge.

And for myself (and hopefully everyone within LobsterPot Solutions), we still take the time to discover what our clients need and break the work down into pieces to figure out the key components.


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